Archive for the ‘Intelligence’ Category

To influence Putin: Strong action by the West is required—Analysis and further commentary on the Ukraine

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The Crimea is going ahead with its referendum, on Sunday, on whether it wants to be annexed by Russia. The Russian parliament or Duma is poised to annex the Crimea next week.

Vladimir Putin is now making decisions on the Ukraine only with a small inner circle of hawkish advisers heading the nation’s various security Forces. He is apparently not listening to foreign minister Sergey Lavrov or foreign ministry officials.

There are only two decisions which just possibly might be averted or reversed before they are finally made.

The first is whether to immediately proceed to have the Duma vote to annex the Crimea, following the referendum on Sunday.

The second is whether to continue to stir up strife in the Eastern Ukraine in order to provide a pretext for Russian military intervention beyond the Crimea.

Without the Crimea, pro-Western parties are quite likely to win the Ukrainian national elections scheduled for May 25, resulting in a decisive turn toward the West and eventual membership in the European Union, if not NATO. These factors will inevitably figure in Putin’s decisions in the coming days and weeks.

The last chance to influence these decisions, at least in the short term, depends on the seriousness of the responses of the West to the Sunday referendum in the Crimea.

Step 2 (of 3) of the sanctions response of the EU is likely to be decided upon Monday in Brussels, and next week in Washington. Unless the sanctions are really sharp, including a number of recently-imagined “Step 3″ sanctions, they are not likely to be seen by Putin as anything other than a sign of weakness on the part of Europe and the West.

Paradoxically, the best chance for Europe and the West to avoid a total breakdown in economic and commercial relations with Russia depends on their imposing very stiff sanctions now. If Putin changes course, they can be relaxed.

It should be clearly understood in the West, however, that Obama’s risible statements that there will be “costs” or “consequences” if the Russians don’t back down are probably seen in Moscow as a show of utter weakness.

Obama’s fine intellectual distinctions and diffidence in his choice of words in all likelihood only confirm Putin’s belief that Obama is a weak character, unable even to pull the trigger on military strikes against Syria in response to al-Assad’s crossing His “red line” by using chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013 (and actually much earlier, on multiple occasions).

It is time for Obama and Europe’s leaders to speak forthrightly, and to eschew the diplomatic and euphemistic niceties that now make no sense, if they ever did, in dealing with a rogue state which has committed naked aggression against the Ukraine.

Russia has seized part of its territory by military force, employing subterfuge, lies, and “The Big Lie” that Russian citizens and Russian-speaking Ukrainians were the object of threats and attacks against their lives and safety. Moreover, Russia continues to threaten further aggression, while moving troops and engaging in military exercises near the Ukrainian border to back up its threats.

We are no longer dealing with the logic of words and hopes to persuade by logic, in dealing with men who have taken over the territory of another country, and who menacingly threaten to expand the geographical scope of their military intervention.

As suggested here earlier, NATO should not only express receptiveness to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment and intelligence cooperation, made by its prime minister in his meetings with President Obama in Washington on Thursday, but also indicate clearly that the request will be granted if Russia proceeds with annexation of the Crimea.

To forestall further Russian aggression in other parts of the Ukraine, NATO should actively consider and make contingency plans for moving 10,000 to 20,000 troops into the Ukraine, in response to any request from the latter for assistance in exercise of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

This is not a time to focus, first of all, on what individual countries might or might not be willing to do, but rather a moment to assess the requirements of the situation if desired results are to be achieved, and to reflect deeply on the consequences of failure.

Above all, it is a time for action.

It is not a time for announcing actions that will or may be taken in the future, but rather the occasion for implementation of really tough and far-reaching sanctions, to take effect immediately or in the shortest time possible.

With armies on the move and Putin caught in the “groupthink” of a small circle of hardline national security chiefs, anything less is not likely to capture his attention.

A further point is of fundamental importance. Only the strongest of sanctions are likely to bolster the position of officials within Putin’s government who have a broader understanding of the world and the dire consequences continuing aggression are likely to bring down on Russia. Strong action by the West is required, above all, to shift the constellation of advisers which surround Putin (and the views they represent), and consequently the flow of information and advice upon which he bases his understanding of the situation and decides to take action.

Thus, to pierce Putin’s delusional bubble, to broaden his sources of information and advice, and to counter the “groupthink” which appears to hold him and his narrow circle of national security advisers in its grip, the West must act forcefully, enacting strong sanctions and taking other hard actions, with immediate effect.

For countries deciding how tough the measures can be which they will take, one final consideration should weigh heavily in the balance. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence from the Russian Federation and the United States, guaranteed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

As Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk eloquently argued at the Security Council meeting on March 13, if Russian military intervention in the Crimea is allowed to stand, no nation in the future will agree to give up nuclear weapons.

Consequently, in addition to the more obvious issues, the nuclear non-proliferation regime hangs in the balance, as do the 5 + 1 talks, and whether Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state.

Recent Opinion and Commentary

For illuminating commentary on the Ukraine crisis, and the long-term impact of Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine both forn him and for Russia, see the following articles:

(1) “Ukraine Crisis: Putin, the Loser”

Nikolaus Blome(Kommentar), “Ukraine-Krise: Putin, der Verlierer,” Der Spiegel, 14 Marz 2014 (11:11 Uhr).

(2) “The Agent in his Labyrinth”

Roger Cohen, “The Agent in His Labyrinth, New York Times, March 13, 2014.

(3) “Obama Has Made America Look Weak”

John McCain, “Obama Has Made America Look Weak (John McCain on Responding to Russia’s Aggression),” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

(4) “Putin’s ‘Honest Brokers’”

Maxim Trudolyubov, “Putin’s Honest Brokers,” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The qualities that are needed in a new CIA Director, Part I (with video links to Feinstein Senate speech and Brennan rebuttal)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

(Developing story–check back for updates over the next few days)

John Brennan’s battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Torture Report

Given his past associations with Bush’s torture and other scandalous programs, and his role in overseeing White House targeted killing lists and ensuing drone strikes with the president’s approval and/or participation, John Brennan should never have been confirmed as Director of the CIA.

Now he has become both the symbol of a rogue CIA and the primary obstacle to getting control of the agency and bringing it back under the supervision and control of a democratic state governed by law. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, that supervision is both the responsibility of both the president and the congress, including in particular the Senate Intelligence Committee which is chaired by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California).

She has now delivered an extraordinary speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in which she lays out in detail the obstruction her committee has encountered in dealing with the CIA, particularly in connection with the drafting, declassification, and publication of a 6,000 word report on the CIA’s involvement in George W. Bush’s torture program, euphemistically referred to as one of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or as Brennan referred to them in his Senate confirmation hearings, “EIT’s”.

For background on Brennan and his confirmation hearings, see the following article and the articles cited in it:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

As noted below, the Krass nomination was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 4, 2014.

It is difficult to imagine how John Brennan can continue to lead the CIA, now that he is involved in a very public and bitter dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee and its Chair, Senator Feinstein–over matters that go to the very heart of what constitutes democratic government under the rule law.

Brennan’s hubris was once again revealed as he immediately gave a TV interview in which he contradicted Senator Feinstein.

Despite his extraordinarily close relationship with President Obama, to whom he served in many respects as a mentor and guide to the secret world of intelligence operations, Brennan should begin looking for a new job.

Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and military seizure of the Crimea has been a wake-up call for Washington, demonstrating again how international law is important after all, particularly in terms of setting precedents, and of mobilizing coalitions and generating international support for collective action.

Russian intervention in the Ukraine has underlines the fact that unsanctioned violations of international law weaken its authority, and even its most important provisions including the prohibition of the illegal threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

It is now time for the United States to put its rogue actions behind it, and to bring its policies and actions into compliance with international law.

Brennan is a symbol and defender of these rogue policies from the past, and doesn’t fit the new requirements of the job. To cite but one example, at his confirmation hearings, he was unable to bring himself to admit that “waterboarding” constitutes torture.

A new kind of leader is needed at the CIA.

Links to Videos and Transcripts

For links to the video and transcripts of Senator Feinstein’s speech on the Senate floor, and Brennan’s response, see:

(1) “Sen. Feinstein Accuses CIA of Searching Congressional Computers,” C-SPAN, March 11, 2014. (CLIP FROM MARCH 11, 2014, Senate Session, Part 1, with informal transcript).

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee says the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress as part of its investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California defended her committee’s work and challenged the CIA on Tuesday as she sought to set the record straight amid various reports of disputes between Congress and the agency.

For the YouTube video, click here.

(2) “CIA Director Denies Spying on Senate Intel Committee” NBC News, March 11, 2014 (with video link).

(3) The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of Carolyn Krass to be General Counsel of the CIA on March 4, it was announced on March 6, 2014, by a vote of 13-2. If approved by the full Senate, she will replace acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger, who has been at the center of a number of controversial issues and decisions related to the torture program.

The Qualities Needed in a New CIA Director

(To be continued)

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

On floor of Senate, Senator Feinstein speaks of grave constitutional violations by CIA (with video link)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

(Developing)

See:

Corine Lesnes (Washington), “Menacée par un rapport sur la torture, la CIA soupçonnée de piratage du Sénat américain, Le Monde, 12 mars 2012 (12.03.2014 (Mis à jour à 07h19).

Scott Wilson, “CIA feud with Senate panel puts lack of post-9/11 accountability in spotlight,” Washington Post, March 11, 2014.

Video: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke Tuesday on the Senate floor for almost 40 minutes about a controversy between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Here are the highlights.

“Key moments from Senator Feinstein’s soeech,” Washington Post, March 12, 2014 (video).

Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry,” New York Times, March 11, 2014.

For background, see also the following article and articles cited therein:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

“F… the EU!” — U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland reveals—once again—the incompetence of the Obama administration

Friday, February 7th, 2014

When Stanley McChrystal spoke disrespectfully of U.S. and French leaders, and was caught unexpectedly by now-deceased Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings (The Operators), when he published McChrystal’s and his team’s dismissive comments, McChrystal was fired. See

“McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, June 23, 2010.

After McChrystal: Obama, Petraeus, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan
Wednesday, June 23, 2010.

Now a U.S. diplomat, Victoria Nuland, has been taped in a telephone conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, in the Ukraine, discussing in great detail the efforts the U.S. was making to influence the flow of events within that country, including an extremely vulgar statement (“Fuck the EU!”) to dismiss Europe’s approach and diplomacy aimed at resolving the current crisis.

In the greatly coarsened culture of America in 2014, the use of the “F___” word, however disappointing in the mouth and thoughts of the Assistant Secretary of State and Special Ambassador for Europe and Eurasia, probably has a meaning more or less equivalent to that which “Screw the EU” might have had 10 or 20 years ago.

It’s not so much the language that is offensive, as the hubris revealed in Nuland’s statement about the weight to be given to Europe’s diplomatic efforts, and indeed in the entire recorded conversation, that gives offense.

Posting of the conversation on YouTube has also revealed, once again, the incompetence of the State Department’s administration, the same one that was responsible for the fiasco at Benghazi. Nuland, incidentally, played an important role in the drafting of the “talking points” for Susan Rice. See

Siobhan Hughes, “Nominee Nuland Takes Heat Over Benghazi at Hearing,” Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2013.

Guy Taylor, “Benghazi talking points not shared with Clinton, Nuland says,” The Washington Times, July 11, 2013.

How is it possible that Nuland was either speaking on an unsecured line to the Ambassador to the Ukraine, in the Ukraine, about such delicate matters of state, or speaking on a secure line whose encryption could be cracked? Secretary of State Kerry or President Obama owes the nation an explanation of which of these two possibilities was the case.

At the same time, one should take note of the deep-felt appreciation of Nuland’s skills and experience expressed by Stefan Kornelius in his op-ed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Kornelius stresses that Nuland knows Europe better than any other top U.S. official, and has been a stalwart supporter of Europe within the Obama administration.

See Stefan Kornelius, “US-Diplomatin Victoria Nuland: Rasiermesserscharfe Liebe für die Europäer,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 07. FEBRUAR 2014, (17:46).

Washingtons Europa-Beauftragte Victoria Nuland ist nicht erst seit ihrem derben “Fuck the EU” als Anhängerin des direkten Wortes bekannt. Sie ist konfrontativ, schnell, ungeschützt – und gleichzeitig eine der besten Europa-Kennerinnen der USA.

Still, the broader implications of this new State Department disaster need to be seriously appreciated. It is much more than a gaffe. The recorded conversation shows U.S. diplomats deeply involved in the day-to-day politics of the struggle for power in the Ukraine, and is likely to hurt the standing of opposition leaders in the face of accusations from Putin and Yanukovych that the rebellion in the Ukraine is being orchestrated by the West.

See Carsten Luther (Kommentar), “Ukraine-Diplomatie: ‘Fuck the EU’ ist nicht das Problem,” Die Zeit, 7 Februar 2014.

US-Spitzendiplomatin Nuland schimpfte auf die EU, ihr Telefonat wurde öffentlich. Doch jenseits von derben Sprüchen zeigt sie Probleme der westlichen Ukraine-Politik auf. Ein Kommentar von Carsten Luther 144 Kommentare

If as almost certainly appears to be the case the call was made on an unsecured telephone line, someone in the State Department in Washington should be held accountable for the lack of strict protocols, or the lack of their strict enforcement, among the personnel of the Department.

The reaction of the White House Press spokesman, and also that of the State department, only underline the extent to which the Obama administration is incapable of grasping the significance of events, being content to use the “spinning” techniques of electoral politics to deal with the hard realities of world affairs–merely forming well-crafted sentences. Alas! If foreign policy were only a matter of words!

See, in this connection, George F. Will, “President Obama’s magic words and numbers,” Washington Post, February 7, 2014.

The attempt to blame the Russians for making the conversation public is rich indeed, coming from the administration that tapped Angela Merkel’s cell phone, and beyond that is ludicrous in the extreme.

White House spokesman Jay Carney would not discuss the content of the conversation recorded in the clip, but he too invoked the Loskutov tweet. “I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role,” he said.

At the State Department, Psaki said that if the Russians were responsible for listening to, recording and posting a private diplomatic telephone conversation, it would be “a new low in Russian tradecraft”. Pressed on whether the call was authentic, Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was US official apologises to EU counterparts for undiplomatic language.

–Ed Pilkington (New York), “Victoria Nuland reportedly said ‘Fuck the EU’ speaking of Ukraine crisis, though department didn’t confirm it was her voice on tape,” The Guardian, February 6, 2014 (18:18 EST).

On the background and details of the Nuland affair, in addition to those cited above, see the following articles:

Marc Pitzke, (New York/Reuters) “Fuck”-Fauxpas: In der Abhörfalle, Der Spiegel, 7 Februar 2012.

Victoria Nuland: Ungeschützt am Mobiltelefon geplaudert
Victoria Nuland telefonierte ohne Stimmverschlüsselung – und das ist offenbar normal im US-Außenministerium. Jetzt wundert sich die Abhör- und Geheimdienstgroßmacht USA über die bescheidenen Sicherheitsstandards der eigenen Diplomaten und Staatsdiener.

Claudia Thaler, “Fuck the EU”: Wer bespitzelte die US-Diplomatin? Der Spiegel,7 Februar 2014.

Die Aufregung um Victoria Nulands “Fuck the EU”-Entgleisung ist groß. Die USA beschuldigen den russischen Geheimdienst, hinter dem Angriff zu stecken. Der Inhaber des YouTube-Accounts “Re Post” ist noch nicht identifiziert. Er ist seit rund einem Monat aktiv und offenbar kein Freund des Westens.

Gregor Peter Schmitz und Christoph Schult (Brüssel) “EU-Reaktionen auf US-Beleidigung: ‘Nuland hat keine Ahnung’,” der Spiegel, 7 Februar 2014.

Was wissen die USA schon vom Konflikt in der Ukraine? Mit dieser Botschaft geht die EU nach der Beleidigung aus Washington zum Gegenangriff über. Dass nach der NSA-Affäre ausgerechnet eine US-Diplomatin einem Lauschangriff zum Opfer gefallen ist, sorgt in Brüssel für Schadenfreude.

“Angela Merkel fumes at US diplomat’s curse of EU; German Chancellor criticises a comment that a senior US diplomat made about the European Union’s role in Ukraine, The Telegraph, February 7, 2014 (1:27PM GMT).

The Trenchant Observer

The Emperor and his vassals: Obama and the Surveillance State

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Jakob Augstein, in his column in the German weekly Der Spiegel, has written a penetrating analysis of Obama’s posturing and fine wordsmithing on the issue of U.S. surveillance of communications throughout the world.

Augstein cuts right through to the heart of the matter. At least in the area of spying and surveillance, Barack Obama has arrogated to himself the full powers of an absolute monarch, here an Emperor overseeing a vast realm. In exchange for loyalty, he provides security to his vassals and supporters, such as Germany and other European countries, the United States, and their citizens. His actions, like those of an absolute monarch, are unchecked by constitutional constraints such as those imposed on English kings since the Magna Carta in 1215.

Augstein notes that Obama, in addition to his speech on January 17, also gave a TV interview to the German ZDF network. He writes:

Before the speech and the interview, commentators had speculated on who the speaker would be: the Commander-in-Chief, or the civil rights lawyer? That was a misunderstanding. Here, a Ruler has spoken to his subjects. And the subjects, they are all of us….

In the interview with ZDF Barack Obama let a sentence slip out which contains more truth than the presidential press office can be happy with: “The President of the United States is not the great Emperor (Kaiser) of the whole world, but only a human being, a little wheel (cog) in this machine.” If one believes he has to speak this sentence, in truth he thinks the opposite, and this also fits the speech and the interview. In all the smart and friendly words there was only one message that sticks: The USA can do things which others cannot do, and when it considers it appropriate, it will do these things.”

Such are the views of Jakob Augstein, one of Germany’s leading commentators, in his current column in Der Spiegel.

See Jakob Augstein, “Obamas PR-Offensive: Der Kaiser und seine Vasallen; Präsident Obamas Rede und sein Interview im ZDF waren eindeutig: Die USA erheben Anspruch auf die digitale Herrschaft über den Planeten. Höchste Zeit, dass Deutschland und Europa aus der digitalen Krabbelgruppe kommen und lernen, auf eigenen Füßen zu stehen,” Der Spiegel, 20. Januar 2014 (13:05 Uhr).

For now, the column is available only in German. However, it can be read in different languages including English through Google translator, and should become available eventually on the English-language website of Der Spiegel.

The article merits a close reading and careful reflection.

For an earlier article by the same author on related subjects, in English, see:

Jakob Augstein (commentary), “Obama’s Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect Itself from America,” Der Spiegel (English), June 17, 2013.

It all sounds preposterous, kind of beyond belief. Yet those who have followed these issues closely know that it is not preposterous, and not beyond belief. We have learned a great deal about U.S. spying and surveillance activities in the last year.

To understand what is going on, still, we must look beyond the clever lawyer-like language in Obama’s speeches and statements, to his actions, and to what the United States is actually doing on the ground–and in the air, and on and under the oceans.

Then, we must measure these actions against the text of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which establishes the following:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Trenchant Observer
(Der scharfsinniger Beobachter)

183 dead in Syria on January 14—Western intelligence meetings with Syria, the moral universe, and Geneva II

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the following earlier today:

Final death toll for Tuesday [14/01/2014]: Approximately 183 people killed in Syria.

The dead: (40 civilians including(7 children, 7 women, 2 teenagers) , 36 rebels, 39 YPG, 10 ISIS, 10 non-Syrian ISIS and Islamic fighters, 11 NDF, 31 regular forces, 6 unknown fighters)

by province: Aleppo(12 civilians), Dera’a(9 civilians, 3 rebels), Reef Dimashq(7 civilians, 3 rebels), Homs(4 civilians, 1 rebel), Idlib(2 civilians), Der-Ezzor(1 civilian).

We all need to pay close attention to what is ocurring on the ground in Syria, each and every day.

See also “REPRISE: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin (July 28, 2012); Geneva II and the urgency of a ceasefire NOW,” The Trenchant Observer,
January 12, 2014. Update reports 697 people killed in nine days in Syria.

The Geneva II Peace conference scheduled to begin January 22, 2014 is unlikely to halt, or even slow, the fury of the ongoing civil war in Syria, and the wanton and systematic commission of war cimes and crimes against humanity by the Bashar al-Assad regime, and also by some if not many of the insurgents.

Meanwhile, Western intelligence agencies have met with Syrian officials regarding jihadist threats.

See Maria Abi-Habib, “European Spies Reach Out to Syria,” Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2014 (updated 10:41 p.m. ET).

AFP and Reuters, “Western intelligence ‘talking to Syria regime’,” Gulf News (GulfNews.com), January 15, 2014 (13:34 h). This report cites Western intelligence officials confirmation of contacts, and quotes Secretary of State John Kerry as saying he knew nothing about them.

BBC, “Syria says West talks to Damascus about Islamist rebels; Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister: “Many foreign intelligence agencies have visited Damascus”, BBC News, January 15, 2014 (10:18 ET). The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet said informed sources had confirmed meetings between Western and Syrian intelligence officials.

Incredible! All the more incredible as Secretary of State John Kerry is quoted as saying he knew nothing of these meetings. More sheer incompetence from the Obama administration!

Who makes foreign policy in Washington and the capitals of the Western countries–the intelligence agencies or the elected governments which represent the people?

The civilized nations of the world cannot simply resume intelligence cooperation with al-Assad, without surrendering the last shred of any claim to moral authority which their countries may still have.

If we act as if we do not live in a moral universe where human actions have meaning and moral significance, as Barack Obama and other leaders who have followed or acquiesced in his vision of the world have done in Syria, we will create a self-fulfilling prophecy hurtling us all into a moral abyss. The consequences will be felt in every country, throughout the world. They are already being felt today.

Obama’s place in history is set, barring unforeseen miracles of redemption. Even if the Group of Five plus One and the Security Council conclude a nuclear deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program, the deaths of 130,000 Syrians (and counting) will weigh heavily on Barack Obama’s place in history, not to speak of his reputation for the rest of his life.

While America lies dormant in a deep isolationist sleep, that will not always be the case. When America awakes, as awake it must to deal with the horrific forces unleashed by Obama’s morally obtuse and utterly incompetent foreign policy, no amount of remorse or rueful apologies (as in the cases of Rwanda, or Srebrenice) will salvage Barack Obama’s legacy from the ashes.

In Syria, these ongoing atrocities must be stopped, now.  The Geneva II Peace Conference can be useful, if at all, only if it establishes as its primary and highest goal the establishment of a ceasefire throughout all of Syria.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. National Intelligence Estimate points to dire future in Afghanistan

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

developing

The prospects for the government of Afghanistan following the U.S. pull-out by the end of 2014 are grim, regardless of whether the Status of Forces Agreement is signed by Hamid Karzai and a residual international (or just U.S.) force remains, focusing on training activities and strikes against terrorist targets.

President Obama’s entire foreign policy of the last five years in Afghanistan and the Middle East appears to be in a shambles. The reality that Benghazi was emblematic of is now apparent for all to see: Al Queda and other terrorist organizations have not been controlled, and are now wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, while disaster in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of international and U.S. troops seems increasingly probable.

Obama did not keep his eyes on the ball in a fast-moving game. Resolutely refusing to take any effective measures in Syria to halt al-Assad’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, which are continuing, the president failed to understand that Al Qaeda-linked organizations in Syria–and now Iraq–could pose a much more serious and direct threat against the United States and its NATO and Gulf allies than the Taliban ever could.

While he was focused on winding down the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, while bungling the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by failing to secure a status of forces agreement (and accepting that failure), Syria was exploding and in the process becoming the new battleground for jihadists–much as Afghanistan had been in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

It is all collapsing now. The president’s response to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan has been basically to ignore it while he is on vacation. Even if the U.S. succeeds in hanging on with a residual force in Afghanistan, allowing for a new, more capable and less corrupt leadership to emerge following the April, 2014 presidential election (a possiblle but hardly a likely scenario), the unraveling in Syria and Iraq will continue.

The Geneva II peace conference for Syria, scheduled to begin on January 22, holds very little if any promise for leading to an improvement in the civil war there. The hope and illusion of U.S. and other diplomats has been if that if you could somehow just get the parties to sit down at a table in Geneva, that would by itself lead to progress in resolving the issues of the civil war. This is a chimera, as were all of Kofi Annan’s peace plans which turned out to be but beautiful “castles in the sky”.

The result of the peace conference, like that of all of Kofi Annan’s palaces in the sky, will simply be that al-Assad’s grip on power will remain solidified, with the chemical weapons removal proceeding and with Russian and Iranian and Hesbollah support and even participation, while his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity continues unabated, as he drives to extirpate all of his opponents, both armed and civilian.

But, for the moment, it is worth just focusing on the National Intelligence Estimate or NIE on Afghanistan.

Obama reacts to challenges with torrents of well-tailored words, but no amount of wordsmithing can obscure the dark realities of Afghanistan and the unraveling of the government toward which the country is heading as the U.S. withdraws. This should come as no surprise, as indeed the previous National Intelligence Estimate in 2012 made clear.

See David S. Cloud, “Insurgents could quickly bounce back in Afghanistan, analysis warns; If U.S. troops fully withdraw next year, a resurgent Taliban could launch serious strikes within months, say officials familiar with a classified assessment,”Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2013 (6:38 p.m.).

Curiously, Ken Dilanian’s and David S. Cloud’s story on the previous National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan is no longer to be found on the Los Angeles  Times web site. For excerpts, see The Trenchant Observer, “New National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan not optimistic,” January 12, 2012. The original article is cited as follows:

Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, “U.S. intelligence report on Afghanistan sees stalemate: The sobering judgments in a classified National Intelligence Estimate appear at odds with recent optimistic statements about the war by Pentagon officials,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2012.

The original link was

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-intel-afghan-20120112,0,3639052.story#axzz2prjVyFldote>

On the 2012 NIE, see also Opinion L.A.: Observations and provocations from The Times’ Opinion staff, “Assessing the Afghan war: Guess what? We aren’t winning,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2012.

On the 2010 NIE, see Elisabeth Bumiller, “Intelligence Reports Offer Dim View of Afghan War,” New York Times, December 14, 2010

On the most recent NIE, see also Ernesto Londoño, Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller, “Afghanistan gains will be lost quickly after drawdown, U.S. intelligence estimate warns, Washington Post, December 28, 2013.

The New York Times, the publisher of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, appears to have not published a report on the latest Afghanistan NIE.

The Trenchant Observer

Outlook for 2014 and beyond: Technology and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
–Lord Acton (1834-1902)

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
–Edmund Burke

The onward push of technology in general, and information technology in particular, brings George Orwell’s vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s vision in Brave New World (1932) more clearly, more palpably into view.

For a more contemporary example, see the German film, Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”), which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2006. The movie is available in English, French, and Spanish, as well as the original German.

Technology’s relentless push places new capabilities in government officials’ hands, as new tendencies toward the creation of totalitarian instruments of oppression appear to sweep past all legal, historical and cultural restraints.

The new mantra of governments in democractic countries where minimal oversight and control of government actions still exists to some degree is that, “We do it because we can do it.”

Justifications are not lacking, for zealous officials in their efforts to control terrorist and other threats.

“What if,” they ask, “a nuclear bomb were exploded by terrorists in a major city?” Citing such examples, they conclude that everything is justified, and nothing is excluded.

The requirements of necessity and proportionality that existed in the past are increasingly lost. Thus, to protect society against terrorists, military and intelligence agencies move relentlessly toward doing everything they can to forestall both perceived and inchoate threats.

The relationship between ends and means–of central importance in both domestic and international law–is lost among officials which have succeeded in forging a secret dominion of secret action, where they are not in any meaningful sense held to account. Over time, they secure the acquiescence if not the enthusiastic support of elected government officials, and even of some judges. They develop doctrines such as the “state secrets privilege” which governments invoke to avoid judicial review of the  legality and constitutionality of their actions and programs.

At the same time, the number of individuals employed by the government and its contractors to protect the population and the state grows astronomically. Powerful commercial interests become fused with the technologoical imperatives and the drive to create ever greater capabilities–and to use them.

The national security officials pushing these programs frequently come from intelligence backgrounds where they are not accustomed to conducting their activities in a manner in which they are held to account before the constitution and the law.

Consequently, as we enter 2014 we are being pushed headlong into a future where the state holds in its hands incredibly powerful instruments of totalitarian control. The government, citing the need for secrecy and the classified nature of the information required for legal challenges, does everything it can to avoid effective judicial and constitutional review of its actions. Legal memoranda justifying secret programs are themselves held secret on the theory that their publication would undermine free and vigorous debate among government officials.

The paradoxical result is that while government lawyers are arguably freed up to produce legal justifications that will never see the light of day, citizens and their representative are denied their right to assess whether the government is acting within the law and the Constitution.

In the end, because in a democracy secret legal justifications lack validity and can have no legitimizing force, the government in effect simply fails to offer any legal justifications for its secret operations. The rule of law is broken, as the government operates outside the framework of legal and constitutional accountability which is the bedrock of a democratic state governed by law.

These are matters which are abundantly clear to first-year law students, but not apparently to ranking lawyers within the Executive Branch in Washington.

A government which proceeds in this manner has gone outside the framework of constitutional government under law. Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret programs and secret activities whose legality cannot be assessed, are deadly assaults on the rule of law.

Yet they continue. They continue with the full backing of President Barack Obama, as revealed through his actions. Here, as elsewhere, we need to watch what the president does, and not what he says.

We assure ourselves that our elected representatives will safeguard our freedoms even in this new world where everything is known by government officials, and large private organizations such as Google and Facebook.

Yet when someone like the Director of the CIA, David Petraeus, is suddenly forced to resign over an affair after his e-mails somehow become known to intellgence officials shortly after the FBI tells him that their investigation has ended and that he will not be the subject of further inquiry, no one insists on knowing what legal authority the FBI used to secure these e-mails.  No one demands to know why FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce called David Clapper, the head of the NSA, on November 6, 2012 (as election results flowed in), and told Clapper about the affair, or why Clapper immediately called Petraeus and strongly urged him to resign.  Were the e-mails obtained through abuse of an FBI or NSA program? No one dares to focus on this question, or to investigate it tenaciously to the bitter end.  No one is held accountable.

Edward Snowden’s revelations in The Guardian and other leading newspapers throughout the world have opened a window through which we can now see how absolutely without limits U.S. intelligence agencies have conducted surveillance and made copies of the communications of everyone in the world, including those in the United States.

We know these capabilities have been and are used to identify individuals who become the objects of targeted killings by drone strikes, without judicial process, even when as in the Anwar al-Aulaqi case the target is a U.S. citizen.

We trust that these capabilities will never be “misused” by our government officials, while casting a blind eye to how similar capabilities are currently being used by dictatorships to root out and if necessary to destroy their opponents.

We want to think, “It couldn’t happen here.”

But in a sense it is already happening here. These activities–which seem to clearly violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, if the words in the text and two centuries of constitutional interpretation have any meaning–have already had a chilling effect on free speech in the United States, and elsewhere. The precise text of the Constitution is worth recalling:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Writers and journalists already weigh their words carefully, and the topics on which they choose to write. Self-censorship makes insidious inroads into habits of free thought. Many are in denial, and are loathe to admit that they themselves censor what they write.

But engage a writer in a deeper conversation, off-the-record.  Cross-examine a writer as to whether the current climate–resulting from the government’s surveillance operations, its extremely aggressive prosecution of any who have made classified information public, and even reporters to whom such information has been leaked– has affected any of their decisions regarding what to investigate, what sources to use, and how tenaciously to pursue their investigation, and you may be surprised to learn the degree to which writers and journalists are already pulling their punches.

What can be done?

Our answers to this question will be duly recorded by government surveillance programs and operatives. Of that we can be sure. Does that fact in and of itself affect our answers? If it does, extra courage may be required if we are to come up with effective plans of action to defend our liberties.

Still, is there any amount of collective courage that might be summoned, in a country which has nurtured and protected the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution for over 200 years, to reverse this onslaught of technological and commercial imperatives, growing government secrecy, and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control?

If we don’t speak out and take corrective measures now, when will we? Can we imagine that it will become easier in the future? In the words of the Talmud, “If not now, when?”

Does anyone remember J. Edgar Hoover, and the abuses he committed with far fewer tools at his command?

How long can we assume that those who hold (or in the future may hold) these extraordinary and growing powers and the power of the state itself in their hands, will always act benevolently and to uphold the rule of law?

The Trenchant Observer

The Carolyn Krass nomination to be General Counsel at the CIA, secret legal justifications and memos, and democratic government under the rule of law

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Should the President of the United States be able to conduct secret operations and activities without revealing to Congressional oversight committes the legal memoranda on which he is relying in making such decisions?

The subject came up, again, in the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings for Carolyn Krass to become the CIA’s top lawyer, on December 17, 2013.

The cute argument made in defense of the refusal to hand over certain memos relating to torture and other covert activities, prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is that they could not be turned over because they were “pre-decisional” and needed to be kept secret to protect free debate among the president’s advisors.

This argument (with its echoes of a claim of Executive Privilege) is misleading and obscures the central fact that, in a democracy, congressional committees with responsibility for oversight of covert activities need to know the legal basis on which the president has authorized certain covert or secret activities. Without access to the written legal justifications upon which the president relied, they cannot effectively exercise oversight of the legality of the activities involved.

What the country needs is for top lawyers, from outside the national security coterie of lawyers who have been in the national security loop in the government while they or other lawyers supported torture, extraordinary renditions, targeted executions, and a whole range of covert activities in different countries, to come in and assume the top legal positions at the CIA, the State Department and other key institutions.

Such new lawyers from the outside will bring with them a fresh perspective, and a fresh approach to what is really legal or not. That is both the reason their appointment will be fiercely resisted and the reason such resistance must be overcome. Those in the government who have been working on these issues may well have an inkling of how an unbiased eye might appraise their work.

Only then will the Congress and the American people have confidence in the constitutionality of the covert actions undertaken, and in their legality under international law.

Government of the people, by the people, and under the rule of law cannot abide secret legal justifications for covert activities, whose very occurrence is itself wrapped in secret.

See Josh Gerstein, “Judge orders Obama foreign aid order released, Politico, December 17, 2013 (6:16 p.m. EST).

See also, on the question of whether in a democracy the government can rule by secret laws, upheld by secret courts, and never exposed to the light of day,

“Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, February 24, 2013

Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret legal memoranda, and secret judicial decisions, it should be recognized, represent key building blocks for a totalitarian state.

See “The Disposition Matrix”: Is Obama laying the foundations of a future totalitarian state?” The Trenchant Observer, July 18, 2013, (Updated July 27, 2013).

In this article, the Observer explains,

The disposition matrix is just one piece of architecture which when used by others in the future could form part of a totalitarian state.

Other elements would be total surveillance of individuals in society who might pose a challenge, any challenge, to those who control the machinery of the state. Another would be the ability of the government to influence and move public opinion by using personal data to sway voters in electoral campaigns, as the Democrats and Obama did so successfully in the 2012 elections.

Another element would be the use of secret laws and secret legal justifications, and the state secrets privilege, to avoid public debate and public challenges in the courts to governmental actions violating basic constitutional rights (e.g., free speech, due process, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.).

A final element would be control of the flow of information, an enterprise in which Google has been obtaining vast experience, dealing with authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

No nominee to be General Counsel of the CIA or any nominees for to be a top legal official at another agency should be confirmed if he or she is unwilling to commit to sharing with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees the legal basis, expressed in written analyses and memorands, for covert activities and operations authorized and carried out by the President of the United States.

The essential and core elements of a democratic state governed by the rule of law are at stake.

There can never exist such a thing as the secret “rule of law”.

The very concept is an oxymoron. The reality of efforts to use secrecy to avoid accountability before the law (as interpreted not only by the Executive but also by the Congress and by the Supreme Court) represents a mortal threat to any democracy, including the American Democracy.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s foreign policy incompetence, and what to do about it

Friday, November 1st, 2013

For background, see the following articles:

Victor Davis Hanson, “Is Obama Still President? National Review Online, October 29, 2013 (3:00 AM).

David Ignatius, “Pitfalls of a ‘realist’ Middle East strategy,” Washington Post, October 30, 2013.

Elizabeth C. McCall, “President Obama’s Absentee Foreign Policy,” U.S. News and World Report, August 27, 2013.

Doyle McManus, “On foreign policy, a consistently inconsistent president: Op-Ed Obama’s rhetoric tends to outrun his willingness to use U.S. power,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2013.

(developing story)

Wherever you look across the globe, the United States is in retreat, and held in lower and lower esteem and respect. This is the result of the incompetent foreign policy of Barack Obama, who despite his insistence on being in control of all the important issues facing the United States in the world, is not in control. No one is in control. The state is adrift.

The president has no sense of strategy, or even of keeping on top of things in different parts of the world. What is worse, he doesn’t seem to be able to delegate important authority to those under him.

The recent U.S.-Russian deal in Geneva on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Geneva, and the subsequent achievement of a strong Security Council resolution imposing a chemical weapons disarmament regime on Syria, might conceivably count as an exception to the general pattern.

That might be the case had it not occurred in the context of the complete fiasco of the U.S. preparing to use military force against Syria in response to the al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, mobilizing its allies (e.g., Britain) to support such action, and then Obama “flinching” at the moment of truth, the moment when he might have pulled the trigger, and throwing the hot potato to Congress where he could not have assumed he would get approval.

The chemical weapons deal if fully carried out may achieve one American objective–the removal of chemical weapons from Syria–and two Russian objectives, first, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and, second, the establishment of a dynamic which is sure to bolster al-Assad and keep him in power for quite some time to come.

Obama cut the rug out from under his allies, including the French and, most notably, Saudi Arabia. His decision to “work through the Russians”, which seems to be a longstanding preference, had the effect of selling out the Free Syrian Army and the civilian opposition to the al-Assad regime.

Bashar al-Assad is now continuing his campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the armed opposition and innocent civilians, while chemical weapons inspectors go about their business.

Throughout the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. Stalwart allies for decades, like Saudi Arabia, have become disillusioned with the United States, fully aware that if Obama can sell out the Turks as he did a year ago when they were preparing for the use of military force in Syria, and could sell out the Syrian opposition as he just did, he could surely sell out the Saudis as he pursues a nuclear settlement with Iran.

Last month the United States used force violating the territorial integrity and political independence of Libya (see U.N. Charter, Article 2 para. 4) to catch an al-Qaeda terrorist high on the U.S. target list, without even offering a justification for its actions under international law. It also sent armed forces into Somalia on the same day to capture a target on their wanted list, also without a justification under international law. Last week Israel bombed targets in Syria for the third time, without acknowledgment or legal justification, or any comment so far as I am aware from the White House.

The civil war in Iraq is gaining steam, wiping out all of the gains U.S. blood and treasure was spent to secure.

In Afghanistan, the best hopes are for the survival of a narco-state ruled by war lords under the general coordination of Hamid Karzai, who appears to want to continue to rule from behind the throne following the upcoming presidential elections.  For the U.S., the logical policy would be to strongly insist on these elections and the electoral process being truly democratic, which if that were to occur could actually bring to power individuals who might collectively help to stablize the country. But as the U.S. showed in 2009, it is hardly an impartial player in the electoral game.

Obama’s record is one of inaction, and of inaction aggravated by failing to connect the dots and to understand how inaction could produce a domino effect leading to immense damage to U.S. foreign policy interests.

Where in the world is the U.S. leading on any foreign policy issue? What significant international initiatives has the U.S. launched? What international conventions or treaties is it pushing, in order to reduce the scourge of war and to improve the lot of mankind?

What has it done to support human rights, in deeds and not just empty rhetoric?

The cumulative damage over the last four years has been enormous. Just ponder the fact that four Latin American states are seeking to undermine the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, each of which which played an instrumental role in restoring democracy to the countries of Latin America in the 1970′s and 1980′s after decades of dictatorship.

The world has taken the measure of Barack Obama, and is not impressed.

What is to be done?

1. One alternative is impeachment (e.g. for failure to protect the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by authorizing the NSA and other intelligence agencies to act in total disregard of its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures).  But the Democrats would not be likely to go along with such an option.

2. A second option would be to persuade Obama to resign, turning the leadership of the country over to Vice-President Joseph Biden. But that seems unlikely to work against the capacious ego of a vain and arrogant president whose ego and belief he is the smartest man in the room, any room, seem to be made of titanium.

3. A third option, suggested earlier here, would be for the president to turn foreign policy leadership over to John Kerry, who actually has some experience in the area. But does this seem likely?

4. A fourth option would be to just wait out the rest of Obama’s term, which ends on January 20, 2017.

The fourth option, while the likeliest to be followed, is also perhaps the most dangerous. Given the damage Obama has already inflicted on U.S. foreign policy interests, who knows what further disasters he might produce in the next three years and three months?

For evidence The Trenchant Observer is not alone in his thinking, see the list of articles above, which will be updated regularly.

We are really in a pickle, as they say.

The Trenchant Observer